Innovation in research and development

Research and development is supposed to be at the forefront of innovation. However, the problem is that innovation is not an activity that scales well. It is difficult to predict and difficult to scale. The people who are most innovative are like that in spurts. They have periods of inactivity that are punctuated with extreme insight and perhaps even productivity. The challenge for an institution that wants to maintain and grow the level of innovation is to manage this process and the people who are involved in a way that yields quantifiable results.

First, the problem is in capturing the thought process in context. Joi Ito suggests that the value of information that is presented is not only a function of the amount of information but also of its context. This is a very deep thought that most people miss. Twitter is, in fact, very little information, but full of context. In fact, Innovation cannot proceed unless the context of the information is preserved. Many companies and research institutions overemphasize the quality and amount of information and disregard the context completely. This leads to breaks in continuity and the loss of innovation.

The second challenge is in bringing together diverse expertise to evaluate the information content. This is very important as innovation is nonlinear and sometimes what seems to be a step back is, in fact, an escape from a dead-end branch of thought. The important part here is to be able to present the information to a diverse group and engage that group in contributing their expertise and their own context to the pieces of information.

Finally, a large proportion of institutions fail to understand that continuity is the most important aspect of translating innovation into actionable products and services. Nothing can be extracted if the continuity of the ideas and thought is lost.
Putting these three ingredients together starts to create a comprehensive ecosystem where institutions can foster innovation and extract meaningful results from the somewhat erratic process that underlies it. We will be writing a lot more about fostering innovation in research in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

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